CAFCASS – what does the future hold?

CAFCASS has released a policy paper on the use of CAFCASS officers in children proceedings in the future. The paper, entitled “Guidance on the use of professional time to benefit children”, details the service’s view on the interaction they will have with litigants in future court proceedings. the guidance precedes the latest figures from CAFCASS earlier this month, indicating continued rises int he number of private and public proceedings involving children – private law applications to CAFCASS in June 2017 were 12% higher than the previous year.

The guidance reveals CAFCASS does not intend to change the work it carries out before and at the first hearing (FHDRA), e.g. producing a safeguarding letter in every case and as much attendance at FHDRAs as possible. This is to continue to try and safely resolve as many private applications as possible at the earliest opportunity.

The change that is likely to see the greatest impact is to CAFCASS reporting function, particularly on issues of welfare. The guidance proposes a shift from producing a traditional section 7 report to producing a short “child impact analysis”. Each child impact analysis will include a professional opinion and recommendation by CAFCASS. Second reports after the FHDRA will only be requested in exceptional circumstances and will not be ordered routinely in the future. This new process is being trialled for 3-6 months in Essex, Yorkshire and south west Wales, with a view to the procedure applying to the whole of England and Wales by April 2018.

The threshold for asking CAFCASS to carry out work beyond the FHDRA should be a concern about significant child impact, not the fact that the parental dispute is continuing in court. Therefore, it is anticipated that following the proposed changes, CAFCASS’ involvement in cases will be substantially reduced for most families dealing with private law applications.

In times of austerity, it is inevitable that service levels will be impacted. In the context of increasing applications to court for both private and public law children cases, CAFCASS’ resources will be directed at the areas of most urgent need and where they can have the greatest impact. commenting on the proposed changes, partner Philip Hunter stated, “Many practitioners will have observed the difficulty CAFCASS has faced in recent years in maintaining their high standards we have come to expect. As such, it is right that a review of their work and involvement is considered. The child impact analysis looks comparatively threadbare when considered against the detail one might expect in a section 7 report at the moment. Clearly, the changes to the service is structured to only offer a “light touch” in the future. The proposals put forward appear to be but a small step-change away from actively encouraging those in private law proceedings to engage an independent social worker, in order to ensure a high level of input from an appropriate professional is available to the court in proceedings. This is additional cost that many families simply cannot afford at a time of separation.”

If you would like to discover more about how we can assist you through court proceedings, you can contact the Hunter and Uro team here.

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